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DO YOU HAVE OEM PARTS?

There’s been a dirty little secret in the tech repair industry ever since the industry started. OEM PARTS.

In an effort to win more business people in the industry have often said they have OEM parts (Original Equipment Manufacturer). I’ve seen it and heard in the industry since the industry began. From repair shops to distributors, it’s been a blight on the industry since day one. Some whisper it while others blatantly advertise that they sell OEM parts. If you Google Apple OEM parts today you’ll see how some companies sneak OEM into their SEO results.

Let me make this clear. Outside of those authorized by Apple (or another OEM) NO ONE HAS OEM PARTS!

Even if you’re one of the honest people out there (and there are a lot of you!) the claim impacts your business because when your competitor says it you find yourself in a bad spot. You can try to maintain your integrity and hope you don’t lose the business, argue with the customer by telling them the other guy is lying, or bend to the pressure and say yours are OEM too. In the end you simply hope the customer doesn’t know or see the difference.

Either way the interaction damages the industry as a whole by putting questions in the customer’s head.

NOW APPLE HAS ADDRESSED THE ISSUE IN TWO MAJOR WAYS

The problem has become so big that Apple is the first company (others will follow) that will now include a software verification system that will clearly show the customer if they have an OEM part or an “Unknown Part” in their device. If you don’t think this will have a major impact on the repair industry, then think again.

As iOS 15.2 rolls out, Apple is adding a new “Parts and Service History” section in the settings app. A feature that will allow anyone who looks at the phone to know if a part has been replaced on the device. If it has, each part replaced will show up in the history followed by either “Genuine Apple Part” or “Unknown Part”. The Genuine Apple Part message will only appear if Apple software is used to sync the parts – a part pulled from another device will appear as “Unknown”

In some ways this will be a really good thing with customers now able to see if the parts in their device or one they might be thinking about buying has been repaired and what kind of parts were used. This will also add another layer to device buyback and/or trade-ins. Some good, some bad for the greater tech care industry.

The second way Apple is addressing this problem is the soon to launch Apple Self Service Repair Program that will put OEM parts directly into the hands of the customer. A program that has been discussed a lot and many are wrongly dismissing as a non-factor for independent repair. You can read additional thoughts on this subject on the WiGoMan blog.

Flying under the radar a bit, Apple also announced recently that they will be doing mobile repair work for small businesses.

A MAJOR CHALLENGE FOR REPAIR SHOPS

Here’s where things will impacting repair shops and the entire repair parts supply chain.

  1. OEM vs Aftermarket parts will be clear. No more hiding. No more lies. But the question is how will the customer react? Short-term impact might be minimal. The long-term outlook not so good.
  2. Trade-in repairs will be impacted. The customers who come into a repair shop now to get a screen fixed to increase trade-in value will likely stop. Assuming that the trade-in value will drop with this new knowledge. Maybe not at first but over time people will realize that they can’t trick the system anymore.
  3. Self-repair is bigger than you think. iFixit’s ($25-30 million in revenue) business model is built on this concept. Then think of all the eBay & Amazon part sellers. Every shop sees customers who have botched repairs themselves but that’s only a small fraction of the people who do self repair.
  4. Marketing Impact. Expect to see shops that are authorized, including Apple Stores, to advertise that OEM parts are the only way to go which will further impact the market for aftermarket parts. Restricting smaller independent shops even more. The larger chains (now owned by huge corporations) will benefit greatly by selling more OEM screens.
  5. Apple getting into mobile repair will also start to take a toll on independent repair shops. Again slowly at first but with a larger impact as it rolls out across the country.
  6. ** While not known or clear at this point this keeps open the possibility that Apple reactivates device software that can disable certain features on a device (Face ID, Fingerprint Sensor, etc.).

I can promise you that Apple and its partners have a plan and they are concisely executing that plan. Each of the things listed above will take away business from the industry. We need to turn the tide!

Listen, getting repair business in the past has been easy for most. You really didn’t have to do much to get some customers. Because of that a lot of people got into the industry. Opportunists that saw the potential and seized it. Think about it. A lot of those people are now getting into crypto, vaping, CBD, etc. Tech repair was a wide open market. But now it’s not. Now it’s going to require more work on your part. It’s going to require you to be more savvy as a business person if you want to stay in business. It’s going to require giving up some control and collaborating with others. It’s going to require a vibrant independent trade association.

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF INDEPENDENT REPAIR

People within the industry often site automotive repair as an example of how OEM and aftermarket can coexist. They then try to overlay that example with the tech repair industry. While I often use this example myself there are a few major reasons why it doesn’t work in exactly the same way.

Besides the fact that the automotive repair industry has been around a lot longer and is a much larger industry it has two distinct benefits that are lacking in the tech repair industry. Exposure/branding and industry representation.

Let me explain. The auto repair industry benefits from a lot of brand exposure. If you were to ask someone to name an auto repair business, they could easily. Ask them to name some brand name aftermarket parts and most could do that too. In terms of industry representation there are numerous trade associations that represent the myriad of players in the auto care industry. The biggest of which is the Auto Care Association, a powerful group that helped lobby for the original right to repair legislation and spends a lot of time and money on promoting the industry to the public.

The tech repair industry has none of those things. The only recognizable brand to the public is iFixit followed far behind by Batteries Plus, UBIF, and CPR. Surveys have shown that the average person on the street can’t even name one of these brands, even when they live and work nearby. Ask them to name a parts brand and – sorry to tell you this guys – but you get crickets.

I’ve said it many times in the past, people just don’t know the tech repair industry exists. An active trade association can change that dynamic!

What’s the potential for working together with a neutral non-profit trade association?

I’ve used this example before but think about how other industries responded to challenges to their revenue models. Two of the biggest industry campaigns ever were “Beef, it’s what for dinner” and the “Got Milk” campaigns that were hugely successful in countering the negative consumer culture that had risen at the time. Both of these campaigns were a product of industry trade associations and both of these campaigns produced amazing results for their industries. But they didn’t do it alone. They worked together as an industry to make their industries bigger and better to benefit everyone large and small. How about you?

HOW DOES THE TECH CARE INDUSTRY SURVIVE?

First a question: Do you want a divided race to the bottom or a united climb to the top?

Races are often run alone while climbing tall mountains requires working with others. If you want a divided race to the bottom, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you want to climb to the top of our potential, then let’s work together! Unity can be achieved without conformity.

The fact of the matter is that Apple owns the pie we’re all trying to get a piece of. The tech repair industry has been fighting over a small slice of it for too long, in essence hoping that Apple will give out more slices. The Tech Care Association believes that we can increase the size of the pie (Yes, the whole pie, not just our slice), thus making our slice bigger, by making more people aware of repair and the benefits of working with independent repair. Apple doesn’t want to promote repair because it tarnishes their brand. So we have to, which in turn takes the industry to higher ground instead of fighting each other in a race to the bottom.

Don’t be naïve and think that the recent moves by Apple will not have a major impact on your business. They will. Maybe not at first, but like the tide coming in on a sandcastle, slowly and surely, what you have worked hard to build will be washed out to sea. Everyone will feel the impact from shops to depots to distributors and marketers. You can’t hold the tide back by yourself – no one can!

By working together, a united tech repair industry can turn the tide and increase the size of the pie.

Working together we can promote the quality and value of 3rd party parts or as Apple likes to call them “Unknown Parts”. We can raise brand awareness for the many high quality repair parts that are already in the market. We can help customers understand that a repair with a 3rd party part is a great value for them and make efforts to set standards for parts that will have greater value in the resale market.

Now, more than ever, people need to be better aware of what the independent tech repair industry is all about. We can climb this mountain together or we watch the tide come in alone. The choice is yours.

Help us to help you and change the narrative about the independent tech repair industry by joining the TECH CARE ASSOCIATION and working together. Join us today!

Dear Tim Cook and the Apple Board of Directors,

First, I want to thank you for announcing the new Apple Self Service Repair program. This is a great first step in the right direction for a world that desperately needs repairable tech now more than ever. I hope that other companies will follow your lead and make parts, tools, and manuals available to their customers.

We also agree 100 % with your statement that most repairs should be handled by a trained professional. The Tech Care Association represents tens of thousands of those trained tech repair professionals here in the US – the “popular mechanics crowd” if you will. A group that Mr. Cook recently said he loves and has been focused on his entire life. Let’s help them to thrive now and not worry about tomorrow!

We want to work with Apple to take the next steps in tech repair and find a better way of working together. This way, in our on-demand world, your customers get the best possible service imaginable.

In some ways you kind of owe us one. Because it was our industry that helped you get to this point in the first place. The men and women of the tech care industry have been working on your products for a long time. These innovative tech care people have always found ways to deliver an amazing level of service to your customers despite the challenges put before them.

When the first iPhone launched in 2007 it was the small businesspeople of the tech care industry that helped you out by offering same day repair services for the iPhone’s fatal flaw – cracked glass. It’s hard to say exactly who invented this repair process, but I do know the industry took great care of a lot of your customers for a few years before you started doing repair work in your stores. In some ways the independent tech repair industry taught you how to repair your own product. Even to this day innovative repair people are discovering new ways to fix your tech, reverse engineer it, and do advanced repair work that isn’t offered in your stores.

This industry has created an opportunity for the “popular mechanics crowd” to earn a living for themselves and create small businesses in their communities. Living the American dream! All of us want to work with you and not against you. But it hasn’t been easy for us because of your past policies on repair. Let’s work together to change that now so that their future can be more secure!

Our industry is full of professional tech repair people that take great care of their customers each day. They have worked hard to build businesses and provide for their families. They are brilliant hard-working individuals who love tech. They are problem solvers who bring joy to many of their customers when the device boots up again and memories are restored. They’re just good people!

Now that you’ve officially committed to repair let’s work together to find new opportunities for the small businesspeople that you say “you love and have been focused on your entire life” while we both continue to take great care of people who buy your tech.

Mr. Cook let’s find a sensible solution by the end of this year to expand the reasonable availability of Apple OEM parts, tools, and repair manuals to tech repair professionals.

Eagerly awaiting your response,

Rob Link on behalf of Tech Repair People Everywhere (aka, the popular mechanics crowd)

Founder & CEO

Tech Care Association

Repair People are amazing! Despite the efforts of big tech companies (OEMs) to make fixing our tech harder and harder independent repair people have shown what they are capable of time and time again. To suggest otherwise is silly.

Next time you go into a big tech store (apple, Best Buy, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) and one of their salespeople tell you to just buy a new device, ignore them and take it to a repair expert at a local tech repair shop (www.WhereToRepair.org). Because I’m here to tell you that EVERYTHING can be fixed and, just like a car, you won’t know the cost of repair until a professional technician has a look under the hood. A sales rep at the Apple store, BestBuy, AT&T, or Verizon has no clue!

Listen the people who build cars or sell cars don’t fix cars. So why would people assume that the people who make tech or sell tech can fix it? Your best bet when your tech is broken is to always get advice from the people with the most experience fixing it.

CAN IT BE FIXED?

The simple truth is EVERYTHING tech can be fixed, and the final cost is in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, I know saying that everything tech can be repaired is complicated. Allow me to expand that thought by keeping in mind that I ran a successful tech repair operation for more than 10 years and we came across almost every repair scenario possible while repairing tens of thousands of devices. We always had a repair option for our customers. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Why? Because we had amazing technicians that refused to back down from a challenge. That was the culture of our shops. EVERYTHING TECH CAN BE REPAIRED!

Allow me to expand on the philosophy that everything tech can be repaired.

When a customer has a broken piece of tech the most important question for them is, “can it be fixed?’ In my shops the answer was ALWAYS YES*. Why always yes you ask? Because it’s true. Everything can be fixed. The only limitation to whether the customer will or should proceed is going to be the final cost and what their individual goal is going into the repair. Those are the variables that no one is qualified to answer expect for the customer.

Now here’s the complicated part – the asterisk if you like. Sometimes the cost is too high. Not necessarily the price but the cost of the final repair. Sure, sometimes its price. But sometimes its data or sometimes its time. Those are the main variables that may cause the customer to decline the repair, but it is rarely a situation where a piece of tech cannot be repaired by someone. The cost may be too high, the data may not be recoverable, and it make take a lot more time than the customer will allow. These are things you don’t know until you have properly evaluated the repair.

TECH REPAIR PEOPLE ARE TRULY AMAZING

Since the dawn of the modern tech repair industry, which I estimate to be around 2004, tech repair people have always risen to meet any challenge they have faced. These are amazing people whose skills (and industry) is often overlooked even to this day. I know this industry well because I was a part of it from the beginning and I have seen the amazing work that the industry has done firsthand.

First of all, the tech repair (or what started as cellphone repair) industry wrote the book on fixing tech. You see the main cellphone repair players of that day were Nokia and Motorola who were actually shutting down their repair operations nationwide because phones had become disposable. Newer smartphones (Blackberry, Palm, Windows, Symbian) had just entered the market and were complicating things. Nobody saw the iPhone on the horizon yet – it would change the industry forever.

The biggest repair challenge in that day was… trackballs on Blackberry’s. Yea, for real. The tiny little ball that gave you navigation capabilities would get gunked up and fail. Enter a brilliant entrepreneur who started selling trackballs online and made millions. Then it was charge ports which ushered in the soldering iron in tech repair shops. Soon after it was keyboards and flax cables with some of the early plastic touchscreens also finding repair shops. Then, in 2007, the first iPhone hit the market and just like Steve Jobs would later say, “Every once and a while, a revolutionary product enters the market and changes everything.” This was certainly true for the tech repair industry. iPhone changed it all!

Smartphone OEMs Were/Are Clueless About Repair

I’ll give credit where credit is due. At least Apple figured something out when their flagship device started coming into their stores on a massive scale – that little glass screen broke a lot! Unlike their smartphone competitors Apple offered a device swap when customers came to them with busted screens, which was an immediate, yet costly solution. There competitors (Palm, Blackberry, Nokia, HTC, etc.) would require you to ship off the device for repair/replacement which would often take weeks. Both solutions had serious downsides.

Immediate onsite repair was only available from independent tech repair shops. In fact, It took Apple more than 5+ years to finally offer limited onsite repair in the Apple stores. Then, as it is now, their repair offerings are lacking greatly as compared to independent tech repair shops who can do so much more.

Do you know who taught them how to repair the iPhone? You got it. It was the independent tech repair industry.

How do I know? Call it coincidence if you like but I trained techs in my shops who were VERY curious about everything we did while training, took really good notes, asked lots of questions, only worked a month or two, and then we found them working at Apple almost immediately after they left us. We also had recruiters calling my shops on a regular basis who would snag one of my techs from time to time that ended up at Apple as well. I’ve heard similar stories from around the industry.

We know that despite building a sexy device with a wonderful user interface (UI) that Apple didn’t spend a lot of time testing capabilities when they rolled out the first few iPhones. This is well documented with all of the issues the first few iPhones experienced. Obviously, they didn’t test durability either because they had zero plan for repair. By the looks of things, they assumed people would just buy a new device every year.

This lack of planning created tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurially inspired independent tech repair people to fill the gap. One that many brilliant people have filled over the years. No one taught them how to do it. They just seized the opportunity and built businesses around their hard work. Overcoming obstacles along the way.

An industry was built without any formal training as tech repair people have taught themselves how to reverse engineer tech, diagnose issues on a board level, and then use microsoldering techniques to repair the most complex issues you could imagine. These are amazing people who should never be underestimated.

Do OEMs make repair unnecessarily difficult to fix their tech? Yes, and in some cases, it should be criminal in others it’s just sloppy design. Do we need laws to force OEMs to make devices more repairable? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that if an OEM has designed any kind of repair program, then that program needs to have reasonable availability to independent tech repair shops.

Afterall, you owe us. We taught you how to fix your tech in the first place.